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Massage for the Outdoor Athlete

Rub your friends the right way with these basic techniques

Hurts so good. Photo by Mary Reed.

Instead of digging out the ibuprofen after your next outing, Kenn Howard wants you to consider Vitamin T. That’s what Kenn, an avid hiker and an instructor at the Pittsburgh School of Massage Therapy calls the healing power of touch. Massage, specifically.

With any vigorous activity, Kenn notes, we deplete stores of nutrients, build up waste and wear down some of the muscle tissue. We end up sore, stiff and tired. We need a dose of Vitamin T. Massage increases circulation, brings nutrients and oxygen to the sore areas and releases stored toxins so muscle fibers heal faster. The results: reduced pain, increased strength, a full range of motion and happy campers!

Kenn’s advice for the beginner: “Don’t be nervous. Being touched always feels good – how can you argue with that?”

For hikers (feet): Hold your companion’s foot steady and use pressure from your thumbs to press into the entire bottom of their foot, toes included.

For climbers (forearms): Use the heel of your hand to press along the forearm, making long deep strokes from wrist to elbow. The muscles that move the hands and fingers are closer to the elbow, so increase the pressure as you move toward the meatier part of the forearm. Work along the length of the muscle to help stretch it out a bit.

For cyclists (quads/hamstrings): Lay your companion on the ground, kneel with your knees straddling one of their knees, and use the heels of your hands to compress the quad or hamstring into the ground. Work methodically from knee to pelvis. For these big muscle groups, Kenn also recommends a technique called petrissage. Imagine kneading dough. Really grasp onto the skin with your hand, then lift the tissue, twist it and knead it around. “Sounds gruesome,” acknowledges Kenn, “but it actually feels great. Hurts so good.”

For skiers (triceps): Compression can be tricky with triceps, Kenn notes. He recommends some really good petrissage action here.

For paddlers (shoulders): Use the same petrissage technique from above, then add in some vibration. Stick your fingers right up into the shoulder muscles and shake them really hard. Imagine mimicking the force from an electric massager. Oh yeah!

For backpackers (pelvis): There are muscles on each side of the front of your hips that help to stabilize your weight when standing. These often get overworked and sore when carrying a heavy pack. Put your thumbs there and “rub where it feels good,” says Kenn. Over a few minutes, the stress in the muscle will subside and the backpacking will get easier.